Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Buried Medieval Synagogue of Buda

View of the remains in 1964
Hungarian daily Népszabadság reported this weekend on the Schulhof Foundation for the Restoration of the Medieval Synagogue of Buda. The aim of the foundation is to uncover and reconstruct the medieval great Synagogue of Buda, which was found in 1964. This late Gothic Synagogue was built in 1461, and was destoyed in 1686, when the castle of Buda was taken back by the Christian army from the Turks. Although the medieval Jewish community of Buda had to leave the town in 1526 (when the army of Suleiman the Great first took the Hungarian capital), they were allowed to return during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule (1541-1686). In September 1686, when the Christian army broke through the Vienna Gate in the process of taking back the town, they started slaughtering everyone they encountered - Turks and Jews alike. The chronicle of rabbi Isaac Schulhof describes how the people of the town ran into the synagogue and tried to barricade themselves inside - but the Christians stormed the synagogue and slaughtered everyone inside. The building burned down, and was later covered over, becoming the tomb of those trapped inside for several centuries.

Remains of the building were found by László Zolnay in 1964. The Synagogue was a square building, which was divided into two aisles by a row of piers. The remains are about 4 meters below the present-day street level, so tall walls, as well as much of the piers once dividing the space survive. The vault supported by these piers already collapsed in the 16th century, but one keystone survives. After the removal of the bodies, the great synagoge had to be covered over again, in hopes of a future reconstruction. Stones from the piers were taken across the street, where a smaller and earlier synagogue was also found in the 1960s. This smaller prayer house was rebuilt from its ruins at the beginning of the 18th century as a residential house, and now it operates as a small museum, as part of the Budapest History Museum.

Drawing of one of the walls of the Synagogue

The uncovery and reconstruction of the Synagogue is part of the general plan for the revitalization of the Buda castle district, and has been long planned by the Budapest History Museum as well (similar plans were last announced in 2008). The non-profit Schulhof Foundation was also created with the aim of promoting the excavation and restoration of one of Europes most beautiful and historically significant synagogues. At a time, when even the Cultural Heritage Office was disbanded in Hungary (more on this later), this plan unfortunately may need more time before it is realized.

Aurél Budai's reconstruction sketch of the Synagogue, after the collapse of the vaults

The Buda Chronicle of Isaac Schulhof was published in Hungarian in 1979, and László Zolnay published a study on the medieval synagogues of Budapest in 1987 (Buda középkori zsidósága és zsinagógáik). More recently, in 2007, Aurél  Budai also published a small bilingual monograph on the Synagogue (Középkori zsinagóga a budai várnegyedben / Medieval Synagogue in the Buda Castle Quarter). The Synagoue is located in the garden behind Táncsics Mihály Street 23 in Budapest. More information is available on the website of the Schulhof Foundation

1 comment:

  1. The sketch looks splendid but I wonder how many Jews lived in Buda before the terrible massacre of September 1686. And I wonder how many congregants the Buda synagogue had seats for.